In 1998 I exhibited two inter-dependent bodies of work in collaboration with Ffotogallery Cardiff and Portfolio Gallery Edinburgh, ‘The Edge of The Garden’ and ‘Lost’. Though the work was initially premised on an exploration of childhood vulnerability and adult fear of child loss and abduction, it was also manifestly about ‘a sense of place’ and of real and projected belonging. In her essay about the work for the Portfolio Journal (#27) Val Williams states: “Though the photographs are a kind of family album, the snapshot aesthetic plays no part in their construction… these are photographs of intense reflection and concentration…with shadows like ink stains and isolated spaces that create a sense of an outside world that does not fully exist.” Ten years in the making, Unnatural Histories is both a re-visitation of the older works from this ‘outside world’ and also a departure; it is less about the subjectivities of space and more about the influence of geographical and cultural location on individual perceptions of place and belonging. It focuses on life in the same remote South Wales valley, where garden and wilderness are separated by nothing more than a barbed wire fence and a powerful cutter.
Allegorical, alluding to the theatre of the mind rather than the oft-assumed veracity of the ocular, the photographer plays the shaman, the camera capturing, conjuring and constructing theatres of the real. The subjects are ‘specimens’, displayed in a photographic cabinet of curiosity, subject to the taxonomies of time and the Enlightenment quest to control and merchandise the natural world. The photographer assumes the role of ‘natural historian’, framing and isolating nature in order to preserve its meaning, fabricating new meanings and contexts in the process.
Unnatural Histories was part of the group exhibition Unreliable Truths: transformation and illusion in contemporary photographic practice. Glynn Vivian Art Gallery 27 September – 30 November 2008. ISBN 9780903189781
The continuing development of the project is being supported by an Arts Council of Wales Creative Wales Award.